Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

London: A Latin American City?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th August, 2007

carnaval-del-pueblo.jpgLondon is recognised as being the most cosmopolitan city on earth, but some of its communities are more visible than others. In Tower Hamlets, where I live, the Bangla presence is obvious, as are the Arabs along the Edgware Road. But I doubt whether many Londoners realise just how many Latin Americans there are around, even though one increasingly hears Spanish and Portuguese being spoken in the streets. Estimates vary on actual numbers, because of the sizeable number of over-stayers and illegal immigrants. But the Brazilian Embassy in London believes that there are up to 300,000 Brazilians in the country (the majority in London), and there are thought to be a roughly equal number of Spanish-speaking Latins, mainly from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

The first noticeable wave came in the mid-1970s, when Chileans in particular were fleeing persecution. This coincided with my own arrival in London, working for Reuters before being sent off to Brussels, and I remember how the Chileans used to gather and play football on Clapham Common. South London still hosts the biggest concentration of ‘latinos’, notably in Southwark and Lambeth (where there is a significant Portuguese community, too). Each summer there is a big Carnaval del Pueblo in Camberwell, the latest held last Sunday. And there are several South American shops and cafés in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre (soon due for demolition!).

On Friday, I joined Caroline Pidgeon, Deputy Leader of Southwark Council, and Gloria Gomez, a prominent member of the expatriate Colombian community and a LibDem member, at the Café Nova to discuss some of the concerns that Gloria and her colleagues have, notably regarding the situation of the ‘invisibles’: people, often with families, who are here unregistered, who can’t work legally, or who miss out on services. It’s not just that they don’t get all the benefits of life in Britain; they aren’t able to contribute fully either, including taxes. Hence the creation of the ‘Latin Front’,  in which Gloria is deeply involved. The Front is campaigning for (1) Latin Americans to be recognised as an ethnic minority in the UK, (2) regularisation (i.e. legal status) for children born in the UK, irrespective of their parents’ status, (3) free movement within the European Union, and (4) the right to vote for all residents.

These are issues affecting many EU states, which means that some sort of co-ordinated action is desirable. In the meantime, the Liberal International British Group, which I chair, will be be holding a fringe meeting on Migration and related issues at the LibDem Conference in Brighton next month, to which Gloria has been invited.


11 Responses to “London: A Latin American City?”

  1. I was amazed how many Brazilians there were in London during the world Cup last year. How do all these South Americans get working visas was my first thought ?

  2. jonathanfryer said

    A high percentage of them don’t have working visas. The Brazilians, in particular, tend to come in on student visas, and sign on for English language courses.

  3. Carla said

    Some of them have a European Passaport.

  4. jonathanfryer said

    Yes, Carla: many tens or indeed hundreds of thousands of Latin American immigrants do, especially Brazilians who have a Portuguese or Italian grandparent.

  5. luci said

    Regardeless Immigration status Latin american and Brazilian contribut hugely to the UK economy.The majority works hard, are underpayed, pay taxes and do job I doubt English people would do.

  6. kyle said

    I wont lie, i am happy to see latinos in this country, brings a bit more colour and culture to our country, ok if it gets to the level, where they try to take over and complain about everything, like the islams, muslims etc… well that isnt acceptable.
    But what i like about these latinos, they are happy to be here, they have no complaints, they want to live here, and are more than happy to contribute to the communtity, i hope to see these guys in the north west someday, bring a bit of colour to our dull areas.

  7. Des said

    Are there any English left in London?
    OK, so Brazil soumds like a lively place and Brazilians are nice enough people but the majority are illegal immigrants and were not invited here.
    They compete for the jobs that the indigenous English have always done and lower the wages.
    This huge invasion of illegals and asylum fraudsters has ruined work prospects for the small self employed like myself.
    I hate that stupid remark that we hear all the time that they are doing the work the English don’t want to do! Who the hell did that work for the past few thousands of years in this country?
    It’s time to take back our country and that is coming from a Liberal, Ex-Guardian reading lefty!

    • stewart said

      u are right , i am brasilian born, british citizen and agree , britain is not being fair with the british people , these foreigner are fucking our lives.

    • stewart said

      i also heard that thing that britsh people are lazy and dont want to work, i disagree, i think people here are lucking opportunities, real oportunities. british people can do loads of things that even in another country people would not do corectly. another problem of britain is feminism, is a very notorius , hard line feminism going on here, quite scary, gone over the top, i dont know how can people here dela with that. that is what i fell any way, i came from brasil , wich is a quite machista contry and notice woman herre has a lot of power and money, and are very independent, treat mens with no respect. no wonder why british guys fall in love with brasilian woman when they go to brazil.

  8. Goulart said

    People seem to get really itchy when immigration comes about. As a Brazilian never heard the particular subject being raised in a conversation but only as a means to boast about ancestry (which is something ridiculously commom among Brazilians, specially “whites”). So, although I heve never suffered (or enjoyed) it before I’d like to say that migration has long been around. The world was shaped by it. I understand it needs to be restricted but it isn’t really the devil in our lives is it?

  9. Luis Vega said

    Interesting how modern Europeans perceive immigration.

    Since many European countries were formed, or enriched, by ancient migrations from the Nordic north and the Mediterrenean south. While others were culturally transformed through conquest. The United Kingdom happens to have experienced both migrations and conquests.

    The Germanic migrations of the natives of Angeln and Lower Saxony, later the conquests by the Roman Empire (which gave England its name) and the French (which tripled its language).
    It is possible to say without these events the country would not be what it is today.

    Often discussions of immigration begin after the original migrations of the current dominant residents of a nation occured, as if prior history never happened. Yet it is understandable after a new and strong nation is formed a need arises to protect it from further change. Although it has never succeeded.

    Hopefully, without losing perspective on how it has been through migration and conquest that new and fascinating cultures have been born – and reborn – over and over again. Both in the Old and New World. It is the history of ‘humankind’: Us.

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